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First and Final Audience

Middanhal

The court stood assembled in the throne room. The hall was packed; besides every courtier, from the king’s sister to the lowest beorns, a disjointed band of highlanders, heathmen, drakonians, and others could also be found. Most of the noblemen from the Adalthing had also appeared, including most of the jarls. Ingmond was the exception along with many of his margraves.

Conversation became quiet as the doors opened. With ten kingthanes surrounding him, the king entered from the far side and walked up the hall. The crowd parted before him, all bowing their heads. At last, he reached the throne to take his seat, while his guards spread out to stand on either side.

“It is a new day for Adalrik,” Brand spoke. “Strife within the kingdom is at an end.” His words released cheers. “The realm has new leadership. I name the jarl of Theodstan to serve as my dragonlord.”

As people applauded, Theodoric stepped forward to give a deep bow before the throne. He advanced until he could accept the signet of the dragonlord from the king’s hand, placing it on his finger, and returned to stand among his vassals.

“Yet new leadership does not mean discarding those who served with skill and loyalty in earlier times. I affirm the choice of Sir William of Tothmor to lead the Order of Adal.”

The knight bowed his head in reply while Eleanor by his side grabbed his arm in joy.

“In that spirit, I am grateful to the jarl of Vale for his stewardship of my kingdom. Lord Valerian, make yourself known.”

The jarl moved through his margraves to stand alone in the small, empty space before the throne. “Here I am, my king.”

“I would make use of your skills. I have decided to create a new position to oversee all matters concerning taxes and trade within my kingdom,” Brand declared. “I name you master of the royal treasury.”

Valerian blinked a tear away. “Thank you, my king.” He bowed and stepped back.

“Yet even if we are not threatened within, our enemies outside our borders must be dealt with. Lord Doran of Clan Lachlann, make yourself known.”

The young highlander approached the throne. “My lord king.”

“You are to be my emissary to the high lands,” Brand proclaimed. “I send you to King Brión with this message. Tell the rí ruirech that the ard rí bids him gather all the tuatha and march them to war.”

The king’s words caused confusion among the court as they whispered among themselves to deduce the exact meaning. As for Doran, he simply smiled. “It shall be my pleasure, my lord king. I shall journey to Cairn Donn without delay.”

Brand nodded and continued the audience.

~~~~

As the noon bell rang, Kate administered a few drops of the physician’s elixir into Quill’s mouth. Soon, his breathing came with less effort, and he opened his eyes to look at her. “Kate,” he mumbled.

“Yes, master, do you need something? Are you hungry?”

“I have something to say.”

“I’m listening.”

He coughed. “Egil will need your help. He is not ready for the responsibility.”

“I’ll help him, master, of course.”

Quill reached out a feeble hand towards her, and she caught it with her own. “Perhaps our new king could have two quills?” He gave a frail smile. “I see no reason against it.” He coughed again.

“You should rest, master. Don’t talk anymore.”

“No.” He closed his eyes but opened them again. “Never stop learning, Kate. Never let any tell you that your place is elsewhere. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Kate told him, biting her lip.

“You came to me late, but you have been a blessing.” The old scribe grasped her hand with surprising strength before his grip became loose.

“Thank you, master.” Tears began to take shape in her eyes.

“Find Egil for me.”

“I shall, master.” She hurried away.

~~~~

“Last year,” Brand said, letting his voice ring across the throne room, “I ventured into the Reach with a hundred brave souls by my side. I promised your valour should one day be rewarded. Finally, my table is long enough to seat you all.” Laughter could be heard, especially from the group in question. “All of you may live at my court to the end of your days and know that you are honoured among us.”

His companions replied with cries of exultation and agreement.

“Should any of you wish to join the kingthanes, your loyalty and bravery have already ensured you a place among their ranks,” Brand spoke again. “Beyond that, some have shown such service, I must speak them by name. Geberic from Cragstan, make yourself known.”

The greybeard stepped out from the crowd, looking a tad nervous. “Aye, my king.”

“You have never wavered from my side since we crossed the Weolcans. I raise you to the rank of beorn. I name you the king’s cupbearer. In peace, you shall be my servant. In war, you shall be my sergeant. And let all know that Geberic of Cragstan has the king’s utmost trust.”

“Thank you,” Geberic replied with a thick voice. He hurried to move back with the others.

“Alaric of Middanhal, make yourself known.”

“Yes, my king.”

“I name you captain of my kingthanes, for none could be more worthy to lead their company.”

“Thank you, my king.” The newly made captain took a bow.

“Glaukos of Tothmor.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” The stocky warrior appeared, looking dour as ever.

“Without your sword arm, I would have died on many an occasion. I would have you join the kingthanes as my foremost protector and champion, always at my side in times of need.”

He lowered his head. “Gladly, Your Majesty.”

Brand returned the gesture and continued.

~~~~

As bid, Egil entered Quill’s chamber. “You asked for me, master?”

“Yes. Sit.” Once the apprentice has done so, Quill turned his tired eyes on him. “I will tell you what my master told me some twenty years ago.”

“What did he tell you?”

“Remember you are the keeper of the law. None may harm you.” The old scribe clenched his damaged hands. “And never allow any to abuse the law, whether he is king or servant.”

“Yes, master.”

“Treat Kate with respect. She has earned her place.”

“I shall, master.”

He reached out one hand, and Egil grasped it gently. “You are my joy and pride, boy. Know that.”

“I do, master.” The apprentice sniffed, wiping his nose with his sleeve.

“Let me rest.”

“Yes, master.” As Quill sank back into his bed, Egil quietly left the room.

~~~~

For over an hour, the king bestowed his favour and received pledges of loyalty from the court. Nearing the end of the audience, he made a small motion as a signal; in response, two soldiers of the Order left the throne room and returned. With them, they brought the jarl of Isarn, still tied up and gagged; Isenhart’s brother and two sons accompanied him, though none of them were bound.

They moved to stand before the throne, although the soldiers had to force Isenhart to take place. Athelstan knelt without delay; seeing this, Isenwald hurried to follow suit. After another moment, Eumund did as well. Isenhart remained standing until the soldiers kicked him behind the knees and slapped their hands on his shoulders, keeping him down.

“You may stand.” They did so except for the jarl, whom the soldiers kept pinned. “There is no greater calamity than civil war when brother fights brother.” Brand let his eyes move from one son of Isarn to another. “We should all be grateful that this ordeal has ended, and I stand by my pledge made in the hall of the Adalthing. All those present on that day are pardoned.” His gaze came to rest on the jarl. “Which you were not, Isenhart of Isarn.”

Whatever response the prisoner tried to give, the gag kept it from being audible.

“I will not begin my reign by ordering the execution of my enemies, no matter how great their crime. You shall remain at court as my guest for the remainder of your life,” Brand proclaimed. “You shall be treated well according to your rank, but you will be confirmed to your rooms permanently. You will be guarded at all times, and you may not receive visitors unless approved.”

If the jarl felt any gratitude at being shown mercy, it was drowned out by the hateful look on his face.

“But your title is stripped from you,” the king continued. “You will never again hold rulership. Take him away.”

The former jarl struggled against his restraints, but it did not avail him, and the Order soldiers dragged him out of the throne room to the sound of jeers.

“Isenwald of Isarn,” Brand spoke again. “The first time we met, you showed wisdom to surrender rather than fight needlessly on. You have done so again.”

The young man looked confused. “Oh. When – you took Middanhal. My king,” he hastened to add.

“I confirm your right to your father’s title and lands. Serve me as the jarl of Isarn better than your father ever could.”

Isenwald gave a deep bow. “Yes, my king. Thank – you.”

“As for Athelstan and Eumund of Isarn, you broke your oath as knights of Adal.” They both met Brand’s gaze, though while the elder seemed remorseful, the younger did not. “Yet given the times ahead, the realm has need of every warrior. I present you both with a choice. Return to Isarn and live out your days within the jarldom, never taking up the sword again. Or renew your oath to serve as knights and cleanse your honour of past shame.”

“I will take the oath,” Athelstan declared without hesitation.

Eumund spent a moment longer. “As will I.”

“In that case, you may kneel.” Brand rose from the throne. Rather than draw the blade of sea-steel by his waist, he extended his hand to the nearest kingthane, who placed his own sword in the king’s hand. He approached Athelstan first. “Swear the oath.”

“I am a Knight of Adal.
I am sworn to valour.
Valour I wield as my sword.
This is my vow.

I am a Knight of Adal.
I am sworn to justice.
Justice I raise as my shield.
This is my vow.

I am a Knight of Adal.
I am sworn to truth.
Truth I wear as my armour.
This is my vow.

I am a Knight of Adal.
I am sworn to fealty.
Fealty I honour above all.
This is my vow.

My sword fears not death.
My shield defends the weak.
My armour protects the realm.
My oath is my honour.
I am a Knight of Adal.”

As Athelstan finished, Brand touched his left shoulder with the blade, followed by the right and finally the left shoulder again. With every touch, the king proclaimed the words of rite.

“In the name of the King, whose command you follow
In the name of the Order, whose codex you follow
In the name of Rihimil, whose example you follow
I name you a knight.”

Once complete, the same process was repeated with Eumund. Finally, Brand gave the sword back to his kingthane and returned to the throne. Once seated, he looked at the kneeling men. “You may rise as knights. Serve your king and your realm above all.”

The sons of Isarn stood up. Some among the crowd clapped their hands, but the applause was scattered. As for the restored knights, they stepped back into the throng of people among the margraves of Isarn. The audience concluded, Brand rose from his seat once again and left. The hall was quiet as he departed, surrounded by his kingthanes; once he had gone, rapid conversation spread.

~~~~

Leaving the throne room, Godfrey made his way to the library tower. He did not take the longer route as usual, but simply walked through the royal wing; the king had told his thanes to never hinder Godfrey’s access in any manner.

Entering the reading hall, he found Egil studying a book; Kate was in the scriptorium, writing. “Hullo, lad,” the wanderer greeted him.

“Hullo, Godfrey. Do you need something?”

“I thought I should have a word with Quill.”

“He’s sleeping, I think. Besides, he’s most clearheaded when he’s had his medicine. But it won’t be time for another few hours at least.”

“I’ll take a look quietly,” Godfrey said. “I’ll leave him to his rest if he’s asleep.”

“I suppose that’s fine.”

Godfrey slipped inside Quill’s chamber. The scribe lay, looking jaundiced, and his breath sounded more ragged than ever. Taking a seat next to him, Godfrey reached out to hold his hand.

As the moments passed, Quill breathed with greater ease. At length, he opened his eyes. “Sidi,” he whispered. “Is it you, Khalid?”

“Aye, old friend, it’s me.”

“Where am I?”

“In your home. In the library.”

“What’s happening?”

“Your candle is burning out.” Godfrey looked at him with sympathy on his face. “There is nothing I am permitted to do about it.”

Slowly, Quill’s eyes gained focus, staring at his visitor. “I will never go home, will I?”

“Not your first home, no.”

“Tell my brother. Tell him of Kateb.”

“I will, old friend. He shall know every detail.”

The scribe swallowed. “I do not remember my gods. Only those of the North and their Sapphire City. What will happen to me, Khalid?”

“I see a tree,” Godfrey told him. “It rises to the sky. In its shade, the people laugh and dance and play music. There is no pain. Only peace.”

“I like that,” Quill mumbled. “I like trees. They are so beautiful here.”

“You shall rest in its shade. I promise you.”

“Thank you, Khalid.” He closed his eyes and leaned back. As Godfrey released his hand, his breathing became laboured again.

Godfrey rose and left the chamber, closing the door behind him. “I’ll need pen and parchment,” he told Egil.

“There’s plenty ready.” He pointed at the scriptorium. “What do you need it for?”

“I must write a letter to Alcázar.”

Inside Quill’s chamber, the old scribe’s breathing slowly waned to nothing.

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A note from Quill

Quick recommendation for you all; I stumbled upon Touch O'Luck and thought it was a well-written story with promise. It does contain explicit material, if that's not your jam; otherwise give it a try.


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About the author

Quill

Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; certain tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.

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